Delicious Surprise, Part 3
Appologies to Kif's fans, for idiotically misspelling his name! All corrected versions of the story should have this fixed!
Leela glanced up from the documents spread out before her. The clock read three PM and, thankfully, this would be her last contract for the day.
She glanced over her shoulder and out the window at the heavily falling ash. It was falling with a speed that made her worry. She began to regret leaving Lilah alone with Bender. Transportation had come to a standstill, and according to the news, local schools had canceled classes, which meant her daughter could be anywhere in New New York.
Leela scrawled her signature on a dotted line, carefully lined up the papers, and stapled them.
"That's the last of it for today." Hermes couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice as he began the process of filing the final contract. "Well, mon, Planet Express hasn't changed too much," he said, filling the silence between them. "We're doing a little better, but Mom isn't shaking in her rasta cap yet." Leela seemed distant, outside of the moment, and Hermes understood her far-away focus. "Yer worryin' about Fry, aren't ya now?"
She smiled and shrugged, "Force of habit. I should be used to it by now, but..." She took a deep, steadying breath. "It's still a little hard."
His expression was sympathetic as he opened a cabinet and filed away the contracts. "One thing has changed around here, Leela. We all understand why, but still..." The sound of the PE ship landing in the loading bay dissolved the tension in Leela's frame, and they rushed to greet their friends.
A dusting of ash coated the floor as it docked; the gangplank lowered and Fry emerged first. His jeans made a sloshy noise as he stepped down and onto the floor. He looked exhausted, and he was coated head-to-toe in a slippery, oily substance. He saw Leela, and, pointing a finger, announced in an authoritative tone, "No more..." her expression brought him up short. "Please?"
Leela sighed, "I'm sorry. Did the ritualistic feeding go well?"
Amy skipped down the ramp, "It was so cool! They let me balance on the tip of their noses while they swam around the royal pool. Didn't you have fun too, Kiffy?"
Kif descended the steps after her, exhaustion in every step. "How did the delivery go, Kif-Mon?" asked Hermes.
Kif groaned, "Marginally better than the last time." He gestured for Leela to bend down so that he might whisper into her ear: "I had to pick Fry out of the Emperor's baleen. There was an unfortunate swallowing incident..."
Leela smiled sympathetically. Paying Kif overtime was useless; he wouldn't accept charity. "I'll take the twins next weekend."
Kif's joy was obvious. "You don't have to do that, but thank you."
Meanwhile, Fry explained to Hermes what had happened on the journey; "...And then they gave me all this money! He was so cool!"
"Okay, guys," Leela said, "we need to clear out before the ash storm gets too heavy." Fry passed the money to Hermes, who strolled off to put it in the safe.
"Uh, bad news on that," Amy said, "We had a hard time getting through the ash showers, and when we landed, it sorta looked like the doors were covered."
"You mean we're stuck here?"
"Spluh!" Amy began, but Leela didn't pay attention to her friend's words. She rushed to the window, and sure enough the doors were blocked with ash. "I've got to call Lilah." She ran to the videophone and punched desperately for a signal. "Please, please don't tell me that the circuits are jammed." She groaned as fuzz greeted her.
"We tried an hour ago; I guess they are," Fry noted. He gently pressed a hand to his wife's shoulder. "C'mon; we'll sit down and watch some TV."
She looked up at him; the panic written upon her features was awful and familiar. With a shaky smile, she turned from the phone.
"...dead, at the age of forty-five seconds," Linda's smile was effervescently perky as she read the latest tale of celebrity shame from the TelePrompTer. The graphic mourned the death of "Look Who's Beeping", a reality program which had debuted earlier in the evening.
"Morbo cries for your puny Earth idols," said Morbo, emotionlessly.
Linda continued, "In weather-related news, New New York is under two feet of ash. Showers are expected to conclude this evening. The city will spend the four hundred dollars it had budgeted this year for ash cleanup to sweep a path from Mayor Poopenmeyer Jr.'s house to his car. The rest of the city's denizens have been asked to 'take care of the problem themselves.' Guess we're lucky to be in California, right, Morbo?"
"Morbo eats ash for breakfast." Laughter filled the air between them.
Leela sighed and shut off the TV. Fry rummaged around in the lounge, looking for something for them to eat. They claimed a couch; Amy and Kif volunteered to sleep in the PE Ship. Leela smiled to herself, understanding their need for privacy. Hermes had, naturally, chosen to sleep in his office.
She brushed a self-conscious hand through her hair, aware that she wasn't the same young woman who had spent the occasional afternoon sitting between Fry and Bender on this couch. Her hair had turned a fainter shade of purple, violet over the years; light frown lines had appeared at the corners of her mouth, and a few wrinkles had formed on her forehead. Otherwise, she had physically held up pretty well; her white tee shirt and black shorts were only one size larger than the ones she had worn in her twenties.
Fry entered the room, holding two opened cans out at an arm's length. "Guess what I found." She took the plastic spoon and can from him before he leapt onto the couch like an eager puppy.
"Bachelor Chow?" she read, amused.
"Diet Bachelorette Chow, with a formula especially for the ladies." She laughed at Fry's tone, and they began eating in companionable silence.
She took the time to study him, in the bright glow of the overhead lighting. He had developed laugh lines as well, his hairline had receded faintly over the past few years, and his potbelly had gone up a quart. She smiled around her spoon as he tried to mask a belch; he was still Fry.
"What?" he asked, his full mouth making him unintelligible. She pressed a finger to his lips.
"Swallow, Fry," she encouraged, and he did so. "I was looking at you."
"Well, you're..." She sighed. "My husband. I like looking at you."
He grinned, "I like looking at you all the time." He wrapped an arm around her shoulder. As they came to the bottom of the cans, he left off at his eating and kissed her forehead...her nose...her lips. She smiled, as always, beneath his touch, and reclined across the couch. "Fry," she said, very softly, "C'mere."
He grinned; the offers were never rare, but each one felt like the very first. He lay down in her embrace, without delay.
She would die here.
Suffocate. Eventually, there wouldn't be enough air. No one had to tell her why. They were imperfect, and because of that they had no voice.
She couldn't give up; she couldn't allow herself to give in. Not when the fight was so close. She could tell they were winning. The confused shouts above her, the cries of victory felt so real. Closer than the blackness.
Weakness came. She had no control here; there was no way out of the insufferable darkness. She kicked and screamed and clawed, until mindfulness of her form returned and she fell to her knees.
"It's better this way, sweetheart."
They were right. At least she wouldn't die alone, but with most of the people who meant everything to her. Arms and tentacles surrounded her; warm tears fell against her collarbone.
She choked against the oppressingly stagnant air, and within her the life kicked in protest. She couldn't let go! Not with another person depending so deeply upon her...
Her eye opened wide as she stared at a crack in the roof. Damnit; she would not die blind to the universe. Groaning sounded above her, then thunderous noise, as though the world had finally collapsed.
She opened her mouth and screamed the name that meant everything to her.
Leela awoke from the dream as she always did; covered in sweat and hyperventilating. Staring, wide-eyed, at the wall, she didn't notice when the light came on and Fry's arms clasped around her.
"Shhh," he urged her gently, rubbing her arms. She felt his forehead against the side of her neck, whispering gentle words. Gradually, within his embrace, her breathing slowed, and, weakly, she slumped against him. "You had the dream again?"
Leela nodded, "It's been almost fourteen years! Why won't it just go..." She swallowed her tears; she wouldn't give them the satisfaction.
She relaxed in his embrace, against his kiss. The tension seeped from her form, and he urged her, "Think good thoughts about the past..."
"Like the day we went on our first real date."
She smiled, closing her eye. It was easy enough to fall backward and become lost in the memory.